Kiev will continue its pressure on Moscow through international institutions as Ukraine can do nothing by dealing with Russia directly.
Pictured (left-right): European Parliament President Martin Schultz, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker during the EU-Ukraine summit in Brussels on Nov. 24. Photo: AP
In recent months, there were several international moves by Kiev aimed at increasing pressure on Russia with regard to the crisis in Ukraine. For example, the recent United Nations General Assembly’s committee on humanitarian and social issues passed a Ukraine-initiated resolution condemning the human rights situation in Crimea. During the recent meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission, Kiev pushed its narrative concerning the humanitarian situation in Crimea and Ukraine.
With a push from Ukraine, on Nov. 16 the International Criminal Court (ICC) judged that the situation within Crimea since March 2014 amounted to an international armed conflict between Ukraine and Russia. During the recent EU-Ukraine summit, Kiev maintained its earlier position on Russia and reiterated the EU's support in their stance towards the Kremlin.
The fact that Ukraine has been using all possible international institutions to pursue its interests vis-à-vis Russia should not come as a surprise to anyone. There are a number of factors that are pushing Ukraine from a bilateral approach to a multilateral approach.
First, preferring multilateral institutions and international structures instead of bilateral frameworks is a classic strategy of small or weak countries facing a larger challenger. This way, the weaker side can rely on international norms and regulations to get its interests protected.
In addition, using international frameworks also makes it possible to get allies onboard, with the expectation that their support will materialize in the form of votes, financial aid and political support. This is something that is much less feasible if negotiations are conducted strictly bilaterally. A multilateral approach allows also formal or informal mediation.
Second, for Ukraine, pursuing a multilateral policy also makes a lot of sense as a domestic political move. In short, it marks a sharp departure from the old, pre-Maidan practices of shady, non-transparent and often harmful bilateral deals with Russia. Besides, using multilateral frameworks to get Russia voted down or condemned may be used also to demonstrate to the public that the government has international support while protecting its national interests against Russia.
Third, keeping the conflict high on the international agenda and within important forums is useful from a publicity perspective as well. It helps counter the Russian narrative that the conflict in Ukraine is a civil war and Moscow is not a part of it. Moreover, it prevents – or, at least, Kiev hopes so – the international community from forgetting about the conflict in Eastern Ukraine and from tacitly accepting the annexation of the Crimea as a fait accompli.
Fourth, internationalizing the conflict increases the costs for Russia – and Kiev knows this very well. The resolution of the UN General Assembly about Crimea, or the November 2016 preliminary findings of the International Criminal Court condemning Russia for the actions committed in Ukraine are clear examples of increasing political costs.
The EU and U.S. sanctions and their implications for Russia’s economy and financial sector also strongly support this argument. So do the NATO deployments to the Baltic and Black Sea region, because according to the Russian perspective, these deployments decrease Russia’s security. In short, they increase the political and security costs of the conflict in Ukraine for Russia.
Kiev did not start this multilateral approach recently. Ukrainian foreign policy has been pursuing this line with remarkable consistency since 2014. Hence, it has not been a knee-jerk reaction to the election of Republican Donald Trump at all, as many might see it.
The election of Trump and the lack of a coherent vision on Ukraine during his election campaign (as pointed out by the recent analysis of the Polish Institute of International Affairs) might modify the Ukrainian strategic calculus only in the sense that Kiev may try to even intensify its multilateral efforts to ensure continuous U.S. support.
The bad news for Russia is that Ukraine is very likely to keep pursuing this multilateral foreign policy strategy and continue putting pressure on Russia via international institutions. Not only because strategically it makes sense, and not only because it is fairly effective (regarding particularly the sanctions), but also because there is not much alternative to it.
On a head-to-head basis, Ukraine is so much weaker than Russia in all aspects that giving up the multilateral approach would be equal to surrender.
The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.